As the Youth Leagues go in to their winter break I try to keep the blog ticking over with an article or two related to Rangers youths, so I am always open to suggestions for an interesting topic. The title “He Played Wae Rangers” is me quoting myself, over the years it is something I would say to my mates while watching the first team, referring to someone in the opposition’s side.
These two players have been fairly significant in terms of Scottish football but few people would associate them with Rangers. Where as there are 100’s of players who have played for young Rangers sides over the years, and neither of these players signed professionally at the club, I class these two as Rangers players as both played in the Under 18 youth League and I am pretty sure the SFA Youth Cup for Rangers.
I saw both of them in a Rangers jersey at least a dozen times, they pre-date Murray Park and the majority of these games were at Maryhill Juniors ground, Lochburn Park, which Rangers used on Sunday’s for their young sides, their appearances for the Under 18’s would have been at Creamery Park home of Bathgate Thistle. Rangers were pretty keen to sign them both but they opted to start their professional careers with clubs in the top tier in England. Were this to happen today Rangers would get a significant sum in compensation for development, back then the club got nothing.
The first player is former Hearts and Hibs midfielder Michael Stewart, currently without a club since leaving Charlton Athletic in the summer. Back in 1996 he was staring in Rangers U16’s midfield and along with Celtic’s John Paul McBride he was considered among Scotland’s top talents. These two players were rivals in more sense than one, competing to be the play maker in Scotland’s youth teams as well as Old Firm rivals. Rangers tried hard to convince Michael his football future was at Ibrox, but I think his mind was made up long before his 16th birthday and he signed for Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
Although he did make the first team at Old Trafford on a few occasions, an attitude and petulant streak which I witnessed first hand when I saw him red carded for Scotland U21”s against Northern Ireland, for throwing the ball at the referee, may have been one reason his progress stalled.
In 2004 it looked like he would eventually end up at Ibrox when Alex McLeish took him on the pre-season trip to Austria. When it became apparent that FA regulations required him to sign a formal loan contract in order to allow him to play in friendly matches he was sent back to Manchester. It was also pointed out that the player would need to accept a significant reduction in his weekly wage and free himself from his Old Trafford contract, which has two years to run, before he could consider making a short-term offer.
Of course he then went on to play over 100 games for his boyhood heroes Hearts and over 50 games for their great rivals Hibs. While at Manchester United he gained three Scotland caps in Berti Vogts cast of thousands in 2002 and was capped once as a Hearts player in 2008 against Northern Ireland by George Burley. He is one player I think should have achieved more than he did.
His rival all those years ago, John Paul McBride, never quite made the break through at Celtic and moved on to St.Johnstone. His senior career took him to Partick Thistle, Stenhousemuir and Stirling albion and he is currently turning out for Wishaw Juniors.
The second player has not had quite as prominent a career as Michael Stewart but was almost as sought after as a youth player. He is due to come up against the Ibrox side when his current club Arbroath meet Rangers in the Scottish Cup. The player is midfielder Brian Kerr, I am not quite sure if he played in the same youth side as Michael Stewart but they were certainly around the same time. If the blog had existed back then I would have had a record of the lineups rather than trying to rely on my memory.
I remember Brian as a wide right player, with occasional appearances in centre midfield. Again Rangers were keen to retain him as a professional but he opted to sign for Newcastle United. Like Michael he did make the break through but failed to establish himself as a regular and he returned to Scotland to sign for his home town club Motherwell. A cruciate injury in a pre-season friendly put his career on hold, but recovered to become an established player in the Motherwell side.
Out of contract in 2007 he made what looked like a good move at the time to Hibs, in hindsight a new deal at Motherwell may have been the better option. A change of manager at Easter Road meant he soon dropped out of favour and after short spells at Inverness CT and Dundee he signed for Arbroath in 2011. And it’s not only Rangers that links these two players, that man Berti Vogts again, Brian gained three Scotland caps all as a substitute under Berti on 2003 /2004 season.